'At glacial speed' used to mean something that went very slowly, but with global warming, the glaciers are retreating at a much greater and increasingly faster rate. What is the term that describes this change in phrase usage?

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    "At glacial speed" refers to the rate that glaciers advance (not retreat). It always has and always will. Do you have nay other examples? Aug 30, 2014 at 23:04
  • Even if the term "glacial speed" is applied to a glacier's retreat, that is still very slow compared to the majority of moving things. The phrase certainly hasn't reversed or taken on any implication of high speed.
    – nnnnnn
    Oct 7, 2021 at 7:45

2 Answers 2


For phrases, I'm not sure I've heard one specifically.

But for single words, like peruse, quite, cleave, I generally see the term contranym and auto-antonym. Wikipedia has a gigantic list of other terms*, but those are the two that I think will be most readily understood.

* antagonym, Janus word , enantiodrome, self-antonym, antilogy, addad, contronym, autantonym

  • I'm not sure I see the connection between peruse, quite, and cleave to OP's question. I assumed he was asking about things like bad which used to mean bad, and now often means cool.
    – Jim
    Aug 31, 2014 at 2:11
  • @Jim Cleave used to mean to affix. Now, generally, it means to cut apart. Peruse used to mean to read carefully, now it often means to glance over quickly. That fits his example, no? Unless he means words that have fully lost their original meaning such that no one recognizes the former meaning, but I can't think of any words like that. Aug 31, 2014 at 2:14
  • Yeah, okay, I was aware of the multiple definitions of those words, but I hadn't considered them to be examples of words whose meanings had morphed over time- in my mind they had always had those two meanings. I guess I wasn't thinking about it carefully enough.
    – Jim
    Aug 31, 2014 at 2:20
  • Gtanted, the term is generic — it fits words that have always had two meanings (whether by common root with different meaning peruse, geographic difference table, different roots cleave or slang bad). I don't think there's a specific one for a contranym formed by semantic drift Aug 31, 2014 at 2:27
  • @Jim - The cool meaning of bad hasn't replaced the original meaning, nor does it seem likely to anytime soon, it's just an additional meaning that is usually clear from context.
    – nnnnnn
    Oct 7, 2021 at 7:51

In its blog, Oxford Dictionaries use the term "Shifted Meanings".


Whilst this term can be used for any change in word meaning, it does include words like "egregious", which has become its own opposite:

"Remarkably good" to "remarkably bad".

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